Congo Ebola death investigated to see if woman was infected through husband’s semen
Two women have died from Ebola in the Democratic Republic of the Congo this week, as experts seek to confirm whether the virus can live in the semen of male survivors for up to three years.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the health ministry said a 60-year-old woman who died on Wednesday in the district of Biena had a link with a woman who also lost her life this month after contracting Ebola and was married to a survivor of the previous major outbreak.
Congo’s health ministry has deployed a team to the area near Butembo in the east of the country and is tracing more than 100 contacts of the two women, it said in a statement.
The Ebola virus is highly contagious and can be contracted through bodily fluids such as vomit, blood, or semen.
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine has said the virus can live in semen for many months, if not years, and still cause fatal illness.
While the source of contamination is still unknown, the woman who died on 3 February was the wife of a man who contracted the disease in June 2020.
The health ministry is expected to release test results confirming the link in the coming days.
In a tweet, the WHO African Region said: “Samples have been sent to the National Institute of Biomedical Research in Kinshasa, #DRC for genome sequencing to determine link to the previous outbreak. It is not unusual for sporadic cases to occur following a major outbreak.”
Residents in Butembo have been asking why it took four days from the time the first woman was tested to announce the results.
“It’s frustrating because the contacts will have moved and it will be difficult to find them,” Vianey Kasondoli, a Butembo resident, told the Associated Press news agency.
“The government and the ministry of health have to contain the disease as soon as possible.”
Ebola swept through eastern Congo from 2018 to 2020 in an outbreak that killed more than 2,200 people before it was declared over last June.
It is not unusual for sporadic cases to occur following a major outbreak, according to the WHO.
Congo’s equatorial forests have been a breeding ground for the Ebola virus, which causes severe vomiting and diarrhoea and is spread through contact with body fluids.
The country has experienced 11 outbreaks since the virus was first discovered near the Ebola river in 1976.
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